“Digital Transformation” is often thrown around as a buzzword, but what does it really mean? At heart, it means restructuring an operation’s technology and workflow to prioritize data. Prior to the modern information age, businesses had to rely on guesswork and gut instinct to function, leading to incalculable losses and inefficiency. Today, however, it’s possible to create an interconnected business environment that freely shares data across departments and ecosystem strata, ensuring decision-makers always have access to as many hard facts as possible.
Data integration is therefore one of the single most important aspects of a digital transformation. If the data flows freely between actors within your ecosystem, you’ll have a much easier time reaping the benefits of Industry 4.0 processes.
For Digital Transformation To Succeed, the Data Must Flow
Simply put, the more information your decision-makers have at their fingertips, the easier it will be for them to make realistic fact-based decisions. Data integration is how you make this happen: taking data from multiple sources, and putting all the data relevant to given decisions in one place for easy viewing.
For example: In years past, R&D and marketing departments have generally had to rely entirely on the contents of the Customer Relationship Management database when creating new products or campaigns. The data in the CRM is almost entirely comprised of information captured at moments of sale: What the customer purchased, when, and how often, along with basic demographic information.
However, there is so much more information out there about your customers. For example:
- Recent customer service and\or technical support contacts. Have they recently had positive or negative experiences with your company?
- Interactions with your website. What webpages have they viewed in the past week or month? Do they have anything in their online shopping cart, or wishlisted?
- Online reviews. Have they said anything about you via review aggregators lately?
- Social media activity. What are they saying online? Not just about you, just in general. Social media is one of the best possible ways to research customer lifestyles, interests, and pain points.
It doesn’t take much imagination to see how much more effective your sales or R&D teams could be, if they had access to some or all of this information. That’s where data integration comes in. By utilizing modern data-sharing tools and information scrapers, it’s increasingly possible to build highly robust holistic profiles of your customers, giving you better information on how to serve their needs.
The Basics of Data Integration
In most cases, the best approach here is to hire a consultant or other third party to find the right tools and methods to aggregate the data you need. This isn’t a one-size-fits-all process; it should be tailored to your needs. However, these are some of the key elements.
- Link all your databases. Plenty of tools exist, even free easy-to-use plug-and-play solutions, which can link together your various databases. These can pull from your ERP, CRM, SCM, and other data sources to make a single combined database.
- Leveraging APIs. An Application Programming Interface is, essentially, a pre-built library of code specifically made to simplify interactions between different software applications. For example, you can utilize APIs made by Google to pull in data from Google Analytics, so that online web search data for relevant demographics is available to you. Most public or semi-public information sources have APIs that you can utilize to grab their data.
- Strong reporting options. You need to be able to take this data, and make it viewable – and comprehensible – to regular people. You’ll want a software program capable of collating and reporting on the data gathered, or presenting it in a dashboard style format for easy viewing.
Digital Transformation Is Challenging – Digital Ecosystems can help.
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